The residents of Copa de Oro are a close-knit community. They gather together for Thanksgiving meals, Easter celebrations and now to comfort each other during the pandemic.
In the last three weeks the apartment complex off North Los Robles Ave. have dealt with constant construction, workers without masks and water shutoffs while sheltering in place.
“There have been multiple all-day water shut offs,” a resident wrote in a complaint filed with the Pasadena Citizen Service Center. “They told us it would come back at 530 PM and it has yet to come back, it is 615 PM. They are doing unnecessary renovations on empty apartments. They have another water shut off planned for tomorrow too, two days in a row. In the last 3 weeks we’ve had 10 water shut off days.”
According to a complaint filed with the Pasadena Citizen Service Center on May 7, the water has been shut off 10 times in the past three weeks. However, according to multiple tenants, there have only been six shutoffs, one of which was an unscheduled emergency due to a pipe burst.
“Not having water for four days in an eight-day period — it’s rough,” said engineer and tenant Lindsey Berger prior to the two recent shutoffs on May 7 and 8.
During the May 7 shutoff, Berger and her neighbors had no access to water from 9 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. In addition, some residents claimed they had no hot water through the night continuing to the next shutoff the following morning.
According to multiple residents, the length of the water shutoffs varies but has lasted for upwards of nine hours. The tenants must fill any containers such as pots, buckets and bowls in order to wash their hands, dishes and flush their toilets. During the pipe burst many of the residents — who did not have running water from 4 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — used water from the complex’s pool for their needs.
Optimus Properties LLC, a real estate investment firm based in Century City, purchased the 38-unit complex in early April. Co-founder Kamyar Shabani said the company had to turn off the water in order to repair the rotting, clogged and leaking pipes. While he acknowledged the water shutoffs, he did not believe the residents’ claims of it lasting for upwards of nine hours.
He claimed he was unaware of the construction workers not wearing masks, but vowed to speak to the contractors to have the workers comply with the city’s mask policy.
Shabani also said that the firm needed to renovate the vacant units which he described were not in rentable condition. However, many residents believed that the renovations were purely cosmetic.
“They continue with this unnecessary construction while were home during a pandemic,” said librarian and resident Emily Surowiec, who has been renting her apartment for seven years. “It’s very frustrating.”
Many residents fear that this may be an attempt to push them out of their affordable housing. An apartment at Copa de Oro costs on average about $1,343 per month, with one-bedroom apartments going for upwards of $1,550 per month and two bedrooms going for upwards of $1,850.
According to the Optimus’ website, once the vacant units are renovated, the company will rent a one-bedroom and one-bath apartment for $2,125. Optimus also advertises available two-bedroom and two-bath apartments for $2,625.
In 2018, Optimus agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit after several tenants of its Koreatown buildings filed complaints. The lawsuit alleged the firm pressured Latino and mentally disabled tenants to leave their rent-controlled apartments so Optimus could raise the rents. The firm denied any wrongdoing.
The settlement included reserving the next seven vacancies in the Koreatown buildings for Section 8 housing tenants, accepting late rent payment from three disabled tenants and ensured that its property managers and onsite managers received fair-housing training.
“I’m kind of worried that they are going to try that here,” said an anonymous resident who feared retaliation from the firm. “However, they picked the wrong building to that in. We’ve got a lot of good people who will fight to the death.”
After filing the complaint, on the following day May 8, the city sent code enforcement officers to inspect the construction. The officers issued a Stop Work Order after discovering that while the contractors did have active permits, they were not working within the scope of the permits.
“No one deserves to be treated in this manner, whether it is coming from a longtime landlord or new landlord because this is reprehensible if true,” Councilmember John Kennedy said after learning about the grievances on Thursday, May 7.
Since the Stop Work Order, the complex has had no water shut off but some residents claimed they did not have hot water until Friday evening.
“It feels like a bit of a win,” said Berger. “Throughout this process, there have been a lot of times where we felt we were just being pushed around. With the stop order, even though its a short term victory we feel more hope for the future.”
“I feel that the community in my apartment complex has really been able to come together to face this crisis as one. This is our home and we protect each other.”